By Hernando de Soto
Globalization has rolled into the Peruvian Amazon. The local indigenous communities have witnessed the forces of the global market up close and fear that they will be displaced and enslaved by outsiders eager to benefit from the valuable natural resources on their jungle lands —the petroleum, logging and mining companies as well as the swarms of settlers migrating into the jungle (Creoles from the cities and Indians from the highlands). The natives also worried that these outside forces will continue to debase the biodiversity of their forests.
Historically and all over the world, people facing invaders whom they believe are intent on destroying their world fight back, ferociously. Peru witnessed a tragic example of this very human response last 5 June in Bagua, where, tragically, so many Peruvians died...
Recently, I published an article, “The Peruvian Amazon is not Avatar” in the Peruvian press to commemorate the one year anniversary of the violent clashes that took place in Bagua in the Peruvian Amazon, leaving 34 people dead. The Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD) has spent the past year in the jungle researching this issue. I’ve spoken with many indigenous leaders about their fears – and their hopes – in the face of the encroaching forces of globalization that have arrived in their no longer isolated part of the world and motivated the Bagua uprising. ILD has learned a lot over the past year and has some interesting solutions–so many, in fact, that ILD intends to publish a book about them in September. My article is a preview of ILD’s findings and revelations.
It is not just a Peruvian problem. James Cameron, the director of the blockbuster American film “Avatar,” pointed out in a recent visit to the Brazilian Amazon that indigenous confrontations with the forces of globalization is a world-wide phenomenon. He cited Brazil, China, and India. In fact, ILD is finding in its research that it is far more widespread than even this very imaginative director imagines. Experts are forecasting food and commodity shortages in the not so distant future and also predicting that the world’s supplies will come mainly from Africa and Latin America.
One result has been a huge wave of funds flowing to emerging markets to buy land and concessions to local natural resources. That wave is now swelling, as people begin to realize that the global recession is far from over and that the excess of Western currencies flooding the market to stimulate growth and confidence may eventually lead to hyper-inflation. Major investors have already begun exchanging their cash for hard commodities, many of them located in “indigenous territories.”
But Cameron’s Hollywood solution will not work in the real world: In Avatar, the American miners were arrested, locked in their plastic coffins, and sent home in their space ships. Attaching guilt in the Peruvian Amazon is not so easy. In fact, in ILD has learned that many perceptions Peruvians held about their country’s indigenous peoples are even more fictional than the plot of Avatar. But in sorting out the facts from the fiction, ILD realized that it now had the information and data in hand that will help all concerned parties find viable, peaceful solutions.
I am convinced that what we have learned in Peru will not just open a new angle on these issues but will also be useful for creating reforms that will help avoid more violence around the world. If you are interested these issues, please read on. I suspect that you will be as intrigued by what we discovered as we were.