The Uprising in the Amazon Is More Urgent Than Iran’s: It Will Determine the Future of the Planet June 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, First Nations, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: alan garcia, amazon ecology, amazon ecosystem, amazon environment, amazon indigenous, amazon massacre, amazon oil, amazon rainforest, APRA, chevron amazon, ecuador oil, ecuadorian amazon, Free Trade, indigenous rights, johann hari, occidental petroleum, peru free trade, peru government, peru massacre, peru protest, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, texaco amazon
add a comment
Columnist, London Independent
While the world nervously watches the uprising in Iran, an even more important uprising has been passing unnoticed — yet its outcome will shape your fate, and mine.
In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world to defend a part of the ecosystem none of us can live without. They had nothing but wooden spears and moral force to defeat the oil companies — and, for today, they have won.
Here’s the story of how it happened — and how we all need to pick up this fight.
Earlier this year, Peru’s President, Alan Garcia, sold the rights to explore, log and drill 70 percent of his country’s swathe of the Amazon to a slew of international oil companies. Garcia seems to see rainforest as a waste of good resources, saying of the Amazon’s trees: “There are millions of hectares of timber there lying idle.”
There was only one pesky flaw in Garcia’s plan: the indigenous people who live in the Amazon. They are the first people of the Americas, subject to wave after wave of genocide since the arrival of the Conquistadors. They are weak. They have no guns. They barely have electricity. The government didn’t bother to consult them: what are a bunch of Indians going to do anyway?
But the indigenous people have seen what has happened elsewhere in the Amazon when the oil companies arrive. Occidental Petroleum are currently facing charges in US courts of dumping an estimated nine billion barrels of toxic waste in the regions of the Amazon where they operated from 1972 to 2000. Andres Sandi Mucushua, the spiritual leader of the area known to the oil companies as Block 1AB, said in 2007: “My people are sick and dying because of Oxy. The water in our streams is not fit to drink and we can no longer eat the fish in our rivers or the animals in our forests.” The company denies liability, saying they are “aware of no credible data of negative community health impacts”.
In the Ecuadorian Amazon, according to an independent report, toxic waste allegedly dumped after Chevron-Texaco’s drilling has been blamed by an independent scientific investigation for 1,401 deaths, mostly of children from cancer. When the BBC investigator Greg Palast put these charges to Chevron’s lawyer, he replied: “And it’s the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States?… They have to prove it’s our crude, [which] is absolutely impossible.”
The people of the Amazon do not want to see their forests felled and their lands poisoned. And here, the need of the indigenous peoples to preserve their habitat has collided with your need to preserve your habitat. The rainforests inhale massive amounts of warming gases and keep them stored away from the atmosphere. Already, we are chopping them down so fast that it is causing 25 percent of man-made carbon emissions every year — more than planes, trains and automobiles combined. But it is doubly destructive to cut them down to get to fossil fuels, which then cook the planet yet more. Garcia’s plan was to turn the Amazon from the planet’s air con into its fireplace.
Why is he doing this? He was responding to intense pressure from the US, whose new Free Trade Pact requires this “opening up”, and from the International Monetary Fund, paid for by our taxes. In Peru, it has also been alleged that the ruling party, APRA, is motivated by oil-bribes. Some of Garcia’s associates have been caught on tape talking about how to sell off the Amazon to their cronies. The head of the parliamentary committee investigating the affair, Rep. Daniel Abugattas, says: “The government has been giving away our natural resources to the lowest bidders. This has not benefited Peru, but the administration’s friends.”
So the indigenous peoples acted in their own self-defense, and ours. Using their own bodies and weapons made from wood, they blockaded the rivers and roads to stop the oil companies getting anything in or out. They captured two valves of Peru’s sole pipeline between the country’s gas field and the coast, which could have led to fuel rationing. Their leaders issued a statement explaining: “We will fight together with our parents and children to take care of the forest, to save the life of the equator and the entire world.”
Garcia responded by sending in the military. He declared a “state of emergency” in the Amazon, suspending almost all constitutional rights. Army helicopters opened fire on the protesters with live ammunition and stun-grenades. Over a dozen protesters were killed. But the indigenous peoples did not run away. Even though they were risking their lives, they stood their ground. One of their leaders, Davi Yanomami, said simply: “The earth has no price. It cannot be bought, or sold or exchanged. It is very important that white people, black people and indigenous peoples fight together to save the life of the forest and the earth. If we don’t fight together what will our future be?”
And then something extraordinary happened. The indigenous peoples won. The Peruvian Congress repealed the laws that allowed oil company drilling, by a margin of 82 votes to 12. Garcia was forced to apologize for his “serious errors and exaggerations”. The protesters have celebrated and returned to their homes deep in the Amazon.
Of course, the oil companies will regroup and return — but this is an inspirational victory for the forces of sanity that will be hard to reverse.
Human beings need to make far more decisions like this: to leave fossil fuels in the ground, and to leave rainforests standing. In microcosm, this rumble in the jungle is the fight we all face now. Will we allow a small number of rich people to make a short-term profit from seizing and burning resources, at the expense of our collective ability to survive?
If this sounds like hyperbole, listen to Professor Jim Hansen, the world’s leading climatologist, whose predictions have consistently turned out to be correct. He says: “Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with a sea level 75 meters higher. Coastal disasters would occur continually. The only uncertainty is the time it would take for complete ice sheet disintegration.”
Of course, fossil fools will argue that the only alternative to burning up our remaining oil and gas supplies is for us all to live like the indigenous peoples in the Amazon. But next door to Peru, you can see a very different, environmentally sane model to lift up the poor emerging — if only we will grasp it.
Ecuador is a poor country with large oil resources underneath its rainforests — but its president, Rafael Correa, is offering us the opposite of Garcia’s plan. He has announced he is willing to leave his country’s largest oil reserve, the Ishpingo Tmabococha Tiputini field, under the soil, if the rest of the world will match the $9.2bn in revenues it would provide.
If we don’t start reaching for these alternatives, we will render this month’s victory in the Amazon meaningless. The Hadley Center in Britain, one of the most sophisticated scientific centers for studying the impacts of global warming, has warned that if we carry on belching out greenhouse gases at the current rate, the humid Amazon will dry up and burn down — and soon.
The Amazonian rainforest is likely to suffer catastrophic damage even with the lowest temperature rises forecast under climate change. Up to 40 percent of the rainforest will be lost if temperature rises are restricted to 2C, which most climatologists regard as the least that can be expected by 2050. A 3C rise is likely to result in 75 percent of the forest disappearing while a 4C rise, regarded as the most likely increase this century unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed, will kill off 85 perfect of the forest.
That would send gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere — making the world even more inhabitable.
There is something thrilling about the fight in the Amazon, yet also something shaming. These people had nothing, but they stood up to the oil companies. We have everything, yet too many of us sit limp and passive, filling up our tanks with stolen oil without a thought for tomorrow. The people of the Amazon have shown they are up for the fight to save our ecosystem. Are we?
You can email him at johann -at- johannhari.com
From Ecuador: Good and Evil December 22, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Environment.
Tags: alfred palacio, amazon, chevron, cofan, condaleezza rice, ecology, Ecuador, Evo Morales, exxon valdez, George Bush, global bonds, Greg Palast, Hugo Chavez, IMF, Latin America, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, occidental petroleum, oxy, petroleum, quechua, quito, Rafael Correa, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., roger hollander, texaco, Venezuela, wolfowitz, World Bank
A Conversation with Ecuador’s New President
by Greg Palast http://www.gregpalast.com/a-quechua-christmas-carol/ (no date)
[Quito] I don’t know what the hell seized me. In the middle of an hour-long interview with the President of Ecuador, I asked him about his father.
I’m not Barbara Walters. It’s not the kind of question I ask.
He hesitated. Then said, “My father was unemployed.”
He paused. Then added, “He took a little drugs to the States… This is called in Spanish a mula [mule]. He passed four years in the states- in a jail.”
He continued. “I’d never talked about my father before.”
Apparently he hadn’t. His staff stood stone silent, eyes widened.
Correa’s dad took that frightening chance in the 1960s, a time when his family, like almost all families in Ecuador, was destitute. Ecuador was the original “banana republic” – and the price of bananas had hit the floor. A million desperate Ecuadorans, probably a tenth of the entire adult population, fled to the USA anyway they could.
“My mother told us he was working in the States.”
His father, released from prison, was deported back to Ecuador. Humiliated, poor, broken, his father, I learned later, committed suicide.
At the end of our formal interview, through a doorway surrounded by paintings of the pale plutocrats who once ruled this difficult land, he took me into his own Oval Office. I asked him about an odd-looking framed note he had on the wall. It was, he said, from his daughter and her grade school class at Christmas time. He translated for me.
“We are writing to remind you that in Ecuador there are a lot of very poor children in the streets and we ask you please to help these children who are cold almost every night.”
It was kind of corny. And kind of sweet. A smart display for a politician.
Or maybe there was something else to it.
Correa is one of the first dark-skinned men to win election to this Quechua and mixed-race nation. Certainly, one of the first from the streets. He’d won a surprise victory over the richest man in Ecuador, the owner of the biggest banana plantation.
Doctor Correa, I should say, with a Ph.D in economics earned in Europe. Professor Correa as he is officially called – who, until not long ago, taught at the University of Illinois.
And Professor Doctor Correa is one tough character. He told George Bush to take the US military base and stick it where the equatorial sun don’t shine. He told the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which held Ecuador’s finances by the throat, to go to hell. He ripped up the “agreements” which his predecessors had signed at financial gun point. He told the Miami bond vultures that were charging Ecuador usurious interest, to eat their bonds. He said ‘We are not going to pay off this debt with the hunger of our people. ” Food first, interest later. Much later. And he meant it.
It was a stunning performance. I’d met two years ago with his predecessor, President Alfredo Palacio, a man of good heart, who told me, looking at the secret IMF agreements I showed him, “We cannot pay this level of debt. If we do, we are DEAD. And if we are dead, how can we pay?” Palacio told me that he would explain this to George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and the World Bank, then headed by Paul Wolfowitz. He was sure they would understand. They didn’t. They cut off Ecuador at the knees.
But Ecuador didn’t fall to the floor. Correa, then Economics Minister, secretly went to Hugo Chavez Venezuela’s president and obtained emergency financing. Ecuador survived.
And thrived. But Correa was not done.
Elected President, one of his first acts was to establish a fund for the Ecuadoran refugees in America – to give them loans to return to Ecuador with a little cash and lot of dignity. And there were other dragons to slay. He and Palacio kicked US oil giant Occidental Petroleum out of the country.
Correa STILL wasn’t done.
I’d returned from a very wet visit to the rainforest – by canoe to a Cofan Indian village in the Amazon where there was an epidemic of childhood cancers. The indigenous folk related this to the hundreds of open pits of oil sludge left to them by Texaco Oil, now part of Chevron, and its partners. I met the Cofan’s chief. His three year old son swam in what appeared to be contaminated water then came out vomiting blood and died.
Correa had gone there too, to the rainforest, though probably in something sturdier than a canoe. And President Correa announced that the company that left these filthy pits would pay to clean them up.
But it’s not just any company he was challenging. Chevron’s largest oil tanker was named after a long-serving member of its Board of Directors, the Condoleezza. Our Secretary of State.
The Cofan have sued Condi’s corporation, demanding the oil company clean up the crap it left in the jungle. The cost would be roughly $12 billion. Correa won’t comment on the suit itself, a private legal action. But if there’s a verdict in favor of Ecuador’s citizens, Correa told me, he will make sure Chevron pays up.
Is he kidding? No one has ever made an oil company pay for their slop. Even in the USA, the Exxon Valdez case drags on to its 18th year. Correa is not deterred.
He told me he would create an international tribunal to collect, if necessary. In retaliation, he could hold up payments to US companies who sue Ecuador in US courts.
This is hard core. No one – NO ONE – has made such a threat to Bush and Big Oil and lived to carry it out.
And, in an office tower looking down on Quito, the lawyers for Chevron were not amused. I met with them.
“And it’s the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States?” Rodrigo Perez, Texaco’s top lawyer in Ecuador was chuckling over the legal difficulties the Indians would have in proving their case that Chevron-Texaco caused their kids’ deaths. “If there is somebody with cancer there, [the Cofan parents] must prove [the deaths were] caused by crude or by petroleum industry. And, second, they have to prove that it is OUR crude – which is absolutely impossible.” He laughed again. You have to see this on film to believe it.
The oil company lawyer added, “No one has ever proved scientifically the connection between cancer and crude oil.” Really? You could swim in the stuff and you’d be just fine.
The Cofan had heard this before. When Chevron’s Texaco unit came to their land the the oil men said they could rub the crude oil on their arms and it would cure their ailments. Now Condi’s men had told me that crude oil doesn’t cause cancer. But maybe they are right. I’m no expert. So I called one. Robert F Kennedy Jr., professor of Environmental Law at Pace University, told me that elements of crude oil production – benzene, toluene, and xylene, “are well-known carcinogens.” Kennedy told me he’s seen Chevron-Texaco’s ugly open pits in the Amazon and said that this toxic dumping would mean jail time in the USA.
But it wasn’t as much what the Chevron-Texaco lawyers said that shook me. It was the way they said it. Childhood cancer answered with a chuckle. The Chevron lawyer, a wealthy guy, Jaime Varela, with a blond bouffant hairdo, in the kind of yellow chinos you’d see on country club links, was beside himself with delight at the impossibility of the legal hurdles the Cofan would face. Especially this one: Chevron had pulled all its assets out of Ecuador. The Indians could win, but they wouldn’t get a dime. “What about the chairs in this office?” I asked. Couldn’t the Cofan at least get those? “No,” they laughed, the chairs were held in the name of the law firm.
Well, now they might not be laughing. Correa’s threat to use the power of his Presidency to protect the Indians, should they win, is a shocker. No one could have expected that. And Correa, no fool, knows that confronting Chevron means confronting the full power of the Bush Administration. But to this President, it’s all about justice, fairness. “You [Americans] wouldn’t do this to your own people,” he told me. Oh yes we would, I was thinking to myself, remembering Alaska’s Natives.
Correa’s not unique. He’s the latest of a new breed in Latin America. Lula, President of Brazil, Evo Morales, the first Indian ever elected President of Bolivia, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. All “Leftists,” as the press tells us. But all have something else in common: they are dark-skinned working-class or poor kids who found themselves leaders of nations of dark-skinned people who had forever been ruled by an elite of bouffant blonds.
When I was in Venezuela, the leaders of the old order liked to refer to Chavez as, “the monkey.” Chavez told me proudly, “I am negro e indio” – Black and Indian, like most Venezuelans. Chavez, as a kid rising in the ranks of the blond-controlled armed forces, undoubtedly had to endure many jeers of “monkey.” Now, all over Latin America, the “monkeys” are in charge.
And they are unlocking the economic cages.
Maybe the mood will drift north. Far above the equator, a nation is ruled by a blond oil company executive. He never made much in oil – but every time he lost his money or his investors’ money, his daddy, another oil man, would give him another oil well. And when, as a rich young man out of Philips Andover Academy, the wayward youth tooted a little blow off the bar, daddy took care of that too. Maybe young George got his powder from some guy up from Ecuador.
I know this is an incredibly simple story. Indians in white hats with their dead kids and oil millionaires in black hats laughing at kiddy cancer and playing musical chairs with oil assets.
But maybe it’s just that simple. Maybe in this world there really is Good and Evil.
Maybe Santa will sort it out for us, tell us who’s been good and who’s been bad. Maybe Lawyer Yellow Pants will wake up on Christmas Eve staring at the ghost of Christmas Future and promise to get the oil sludge out of the Cofan’s drinking water.
Or maybe we’ll have to figure it out ourselves. When I met Chief Emergildo, I was reminded of an evening years back, when I was way the hell in the middle of nowhere in the Prince William Sound, Alaska, in the Chugach Native village of Chenega. I was investigating the damage done by Exxon’s oil. There was oil sludge all over Chenega’s beaches. It was March 1991, and I was in the home of village elder Paul Kompkoff on the island’s shore, watching CNN. We stared in silence as “smart” bombs exploded in Baghdad and Basra.
Then Paul said to me, in that slow, quiet way he had, “Well, I guess we’re all Natives now.”
Well, maybe we are. But we don’t have to be, do we?
Maybe we can take some guidance from this tiny nation at the center of the earth. I listened back through my talk with President Correa. And I can assure his daughter that she didn’t have to worry that her dad would forget about “the poor children who are cold” on the streets of Quito.
Because the Professor Doctor is still one of them.