Struggle in the Amazon

Having lived in a swamp (our Nation’s Capital), near a swamp (New Orleans), a desert (western region of the Dominican Republic), and a microclimate of rain, rain, a little bit of sun, and rain (Portland), I appreciate how one’s environment has tremendous influence on mind, body and spirit. As we rise in the morning, we are greeted by sunshine, fog, drizzle, downpour or snowfall. Sometimes, we “know” what type of weather to expect. However, typically it’s a complete surprise, and sets the stage for our day (my apologies to the science of meteorology, but I don’t believe in you anymore).

Most of us live don’t live in the jungle. Indeed, my connection to the jungle theses days is watching episodes of Curious George with my son. But a lot of men and women actually do live on wild, overgrown lands dense and tropical and crowded with life. What is a lot? I was stunned to learn that about 50,000,000 people live in the world’s rainforests. Unlike my urban and suburban neighbors, these people depend on the land for food and shelter in an exceptional and meaningful way. The environment determines what they eat that day, and where they source their food. They are born and they die on these lands, and in between, they live.

Yesterday, I noticed there was a flurry of action on Facebook as the heartbreaking image of a weeping indigenous chief was posted as a response to the mega dam that is being built in the Amazonian rainforest. I did a little research. The Kayapó of Brazil, a tribe of 8,000 native people, live south of the Amazon basin along the Rio Xingu. Last June, a decision was made by the Brazilian government to proceed in the development of the Belo Monte dam. It will be the third largest hydroelectric dam in the world and generate tremendous amounts of energy. Consequently, some 20,000-40,000 indigenous people, among them the Kayapó, will be displaced due to flooding while over 400,000 hectares of Brazilian rainforest will remain permanently under water.

For just a moment this morning, I stood outside on my deck and looked around. What if a decision was made by political leadership that my neighborhood, a community comprised of some 7,000 people (very close to the numbers of the Kayapó), would be flooded for a development project? Where is my choice in whether or not I wished to relocate my family?

I realize the comparison is ludicrous. And I know I haven’t discussed the other side of the story… the national and international need for energy and industry is paramount. The company in charge of the dam promises to compensate and resettle the people who will lose their land. And environmental impact studies were conducted to ensure the most positive outcomes for all parties involved.

But there is money to be earned, and indeed, fortunes. Eletrobas, the biggest company of the electric power sector in Latin America, controls multiple subsidiaries whose executive leadership enjoy great wealth and power. Despite years of negotiation, Chief Raoni of the Kayapó didn’t ever stand a chance.

Put yourself and your family in the place of the people who live on these lands. What would you do? What do you think?

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3 thoughts on “Struggle in the Amazon

  1. paralaxvu says:

    “Helpless” is such a small word for such a huge interior feeling. I’ve never been anywhere outside this country except to beautiful British Columbia, and while I’m sure there are folks there who are poor and taken advantage of, I was there for only two weeks on a one-year wedding anniversary and saw only “the sights.” But there are lots of places in the US where there is poverty and sadness and government neglect. Yes, the governments of Brazil and other Latin American countries are probably run by the wealthy corporations. This reminds me of the government of the US and the lobbyists and UPACS and corporations with the money. These are the people who get things done–or not–in any country, and I feel as helpless in the US to do anything about it as the poor Amazon chief. When I think of the world and its woes, I think of the microcosm of the US. We watch our two biggest parties fight and bicker with each other and within themselves, for what? For the good of all the citizens of the United States? Hah! For the good of their own pockets and their own children and grandchildren, and their own glory. It’s not just Brazil but the entire world that’s going to hell in an Ethiopian bread basket. And I feel helpless to save anyone. All I can do is be a good neighbor, tithe to my favorite charities and hope someone, or something, is watching over us all. Because the polls show the entire country is disgusted with our elected representatives and nothing is being done about it. They laugh in our faces, spit at the opposition, and still line their own and their children’s present-and-future pockets. I’m not so sure, Sarah, that expouning on this kind of stuff, by you or by me, makes any difference. Except that it makes me angry and sad and feeling helpless, and I’m tired of feeling that way. But I can’t fight the depressing statistics anymore…and I’ve fought a long and gray fight against my own depression for years. What’s left to do? I get up in the morning, make my coffee, feed the dogs, walk in the neighborhood and smile at the folks passing by. But you’re younger, and you have little ones and still a lot of hope left. Me, I just try to trudge the “road of happy destiny,” as a certain 12-step program espouses, and try to see the good in myself and those around me. I can’t fight The Big Fight anymore. I’m tired and too old and although I want to change things, I have neither the power nor the money nor the votes (although, who does these days?) to get anything real done.

  2. skpadilla says:

    Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. Feeling helpless is so frustrating. I find some comfort that comes just by recognizing how troubled our world is through reflection and writing, and yet I’m not sure those two things do make a significant difference. Perhaps the approach you’re taking is the right thing to do… rising in the morning, walking, caring for your dogs. I’m certainly glad that you are a part of a world and I appreciate your honesty.

  3. Jennifer Doherty says:

    Very interesting article on development induced displacement.

    The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone.

    India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

    Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

    This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

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