In a curious bit of polysemy (or perhaps it was always an intentional joke?), the Amazon region is currently in the process of being looted and destroyed, largely for the sake of consumer desire for distractions, cheap food, and also the need to support the “endless growth” paradigm — as perhaps best epitomized by the online retailer named Amazon.
In recognition of this reality, and the great loss occurring, Pope Francis recently gave a passionate call for the Amazon to be protected from big business and “consumerist greed” — while in Peru, on a tour of Latin America.
To be more particular here, Pope Francis noted the growing and largely malignant influence of illegal logging and mining activity in the region seen over recent years.
This is largely in keeping with the tone set earlier in the Pope’s now 5-years-and-running tenure in the position, but is worth noting due to the references to the fact that the environmental damage being wrought is ultimately due to demand among consumers elsewhere in the world.
“The native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present,” stated Pope Francis during an address to a crowd of people from more than 20 groups indigenous to the region, including the Ashaninkas, Harakbut, Shipibos, Juni Kuin, and Esse-ejas.
I particularly want to draw attention to the comments about “pressure being exerted by big business interests,” which are now somewhat desperately looking for new sources of lumber, oil, natural gas, gold, etc., to exploit and extract. All, it should be realized, to meet demand among those living in wealthy nations.
As explained by Pope Francis, these big businesses are now looting the Amazon for “supplies for other countries without concern for its inhabitants.” Given the number of indigenous and land’s rights activists now being murdered every year in the region, I don’t think that there’s any way that this can be disputed.
Reuters provides more:
“Thousands of representative of the groups from across Peru walked before him, dressed in traditional regional costumes and feather headdresses and speaking in their native languages, as traditional wind instruments sounded mournfully in a small stadium built to look like a hut in the city of Puerto Maldonado.
“The pope, whose speech was punctuated by repeated applause and beating of drums, spoke after listening to rainforest residents decry what they called the rape of their land…The southeastern region of Peru known as ‘Madre de Dios,’ Spanish for ‘Mother of God,’ has been badly blighted in recent years by unregulated gold mining, with one effect being dangerous levels of mercury in rivers. Illegal loggers and drug traffickers in other parts of the Peruvian Amazon have killed activists and attacked indigenous tribes that shun contact with outsiders.
“While more regulated, foreign companies have eagerly eyed the Camisea gas reserves in the neighboring region of Cusco. In northern Peru more than a dozen oil spills from a state-operated pipeline have polluted native lands.”
“They enter our territories without consulting us and we will suffer a lot when foreigners drill the earth…and destroy our rivers turning them into black waters of death,” explained Hector Sueyo, an indigenous Harakbut, while speaking to the pope.
In a bit that I think has a lot of truth to it, Pope Francis noted that: “We cannot use goods meant for all as consumerist greed dictates. Limits have to be set that can help preserve us from all plans for a massive destruction of the habitat that makes us who we are.”
The Reuters coverage continues:
“On the first papal visit to the Amazon since John Paul II visited the northern Peruvian city of Iquitos in 1985, the Argentine pope said he had heard the ‘cry of the people.’ He promised that he and the Church would offer them ‘a whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth, and the defense of cultures.’
“Indigenous chiefs in Peru hope the pope’s visit will persuade the government of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker, to give native communities titles to ancestral land and help preserving it.”
“We’re the ones who have been fighting to protect the Amazon the longest,” explained the head of the indigenous federation FENAMAD in Madre de Dios, Julio Cusurichi, in an interview with Reuters.
Speaking on the general decline in social cohesion and human behavior accompanying the looting of the land and “growth,” a flower shop owner in Puerto Maldonado by the name of Alberto Fernandez expressed reserved hopes that the Pope’s visit might help some.
“There’s a lot of need here…every day there are more bars and cantinas, more prostitution (and human trafficking), more illegal mining…30 years ago Puerto wasn’t like this,” Fernandez stated. “There were only a couple paved streets, but we lived in peace.”
That’s essentially the story the world over, across the last few centuries, even if it is glossed over by those trumpeting about whatever new ideology or technology it is at the time that’s supposed to turn the world into some kind of paradise. The reality is that industrialization and endless growth has brought with it social disintegration, and the treatment of other humans as mere objects or fellow cogs in a machine.
One need only look at the situation that followed from the original industrialization of England to know the truth of this — a rapid transition from a world where there was some degree of social responsibility and reciprocity, and also responsibility towards common lands and resources, to one where addiction to laudanum, widespread prostitution and trafficking of girls/women, and crime led directly to the creation of some of the first police forces in the modern world.
In other words, the social contract was shredded, leaving only the threat of consequences as a motivator against predation of one’s neighbors.
That’s not to say that the past was some sort of paradise, but there is no argument that can be made honestly to explain away the fact that social disintegration follows resource over-exploitation (and “success”) around like a hungry, abandoned dog.
Pope Francis noted in his closing remarks: “Special care is demanded of us, lest we allow ourselves to be ensnared by ideological forms of colonialism, disguised as progress, that slowly but surely dissipate cultural identities and establish a uniform, single…and weak way of thinking.”