A lot is said in the west about the travesty and injustice that we have brought to the Amazon rainforest with our years of logging and destruction. But now an historic event has occurred in the struggle to protect the rainforest and it has passed right over our heads. Local indigenous peoples of the Amazon have risen up, taken on huge oil companies, to defend an ecosystem that everybody on this earth needs, and they have won.
Earlier this year, Peru’s president, Alan Garcia, sold the rights to 70% of Peru’s share of the Amazon rainforest to oil companies to do what they please with it. The local indigenous people, having seen the consequences of oil companies arriving in other parts of the Amazon – Occidental Petroleum are facing charges for dumping nine billion barrels of toxic waste in other regions of the Peruvian Amazon and according to Greg Palast, Chevron-Texaco have been dumping toxic waste in the Amazon in Ecuador -, have risen up.
Garcia’s plan to give huge areas of the Amazon to oil companies was a response to “intense pressure from the US” and “from the International Monetary Fund” according to Johann Hari.
The local indigenous people, not able to stand back and watch the rainforest be taken over, blockaded the rivers and roads so that the oil companies could not get anything in or out. Garcia then declared a “state of emergency”, much like the British did in Kenya when locals began demanding their rights, and sent in the military to crush the rebellion, killing more than a dozen people.
But even while under attack, the indigenous people did not give up. They stood their ground in the face of the enormous power of the oil companies and the Peruvian military and many in Peru began to sympathize with them. This led the Peruvian congress to repeal the law granting oil companies control over those areas of the Amazon. This is a huge and historic victory for worldwide indigenous resistance to capitalism and we should take more notice of it.
This historic event in the rainforest we supposedly care so much about has completely passed over the heads of the mainstream news in the west, with the Independent being the only exception. The great free press of the west was too busy speculating about the habits of celebrities to notice this event that affects us all. Even when Garcia sold the rights to a majority of the Peruvian Amazon to oil companies, surely an important sale, we were kept in the dark. The news should be to inform and empower us but it seems to have the opposite effect.
The indigenous people of the Amazon have set a great example that we should surely follow. We have to resist oil companies, and everything else destroying our world, at home. There are many ways we can resist; we could all stop buying from any company that exploits the Amazon; we could practice civil disobedience and sabotage against the companies, much like the indigenous people did; or we could work to end the system that leads to these conditions of exploitation and oppression. Or, better yet, we could do all 3. And we must be creative to come up with more ways to resist.
If the poorest, most oppressed people in the western hemisphere can stand up to the richest and most powerful and win then surely we can do the same.
One of the leaders of the blockade, Davi Yanomami, said, "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?"
We could learn a lot from the struggles of indigenous peoples, whether it be the Zapatistas struggling to free Chiapas from oppression or the peoples of the Amazon rainforest trying to save the one buffer left between us and complete ecological disaster. If only we listened.