By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project
Global Justice Ecology Project just arrived in Paraguay for two weeks of meetings on the themes of wood-based bioenergy, genetically engineered trees, the impacts of livestock and GMO soy production on global deforestation levels, and the solutions to climate change and deforestation provided by local communities maintaining and caring for their traditional lands.
Looking out of the Asunción hotel room at the wide majestic Paraguay river, and the expanse of forest on the other side, feeling the tropical humidity and listening to the rumble of distant thunder, it is hard to imagine that yesterday my GJEP colleague and I woke up in the midst of a major snowstorm in Buffalo, NY.
Ours was one of the few flights not cancelled due to the lake effect blizzard and high winds. Though not cancelled, it was delayed, but a rush through the Newark airport got us to our new gate just in time to walk onto our next plane bound for Panama City where hunger pangs became our next concern.
US airlines, of course, does not serve free food, but neither do they stock sufficient amounts of the meals they sell, so by the time the flight attendants got to our row 2/3 of the way down the plane, they were out of almost everything but “snack boxes.” So wedged into our seats we attempted to share an $8.99 snack box, managing in the process to knock a glass of wine onto my compatriot when someone in the aisle bumped into him.
This became an amusing theme of the trip. First a glass of tomato juice had a crack in it, leaking all over the place. Then there was the wine; then, reaching for my water after a scrunched up nap, I managed to spill it all over the two of us. And finally, on the flight from Panama to Paraguay (not a US flight so we did finally get fed!), the flight attendant opened a can of club soda, which sprayed all over, much to her horror.
When we finally arrived, stiff and tired, some 18 hours later in Paraguay, the soft tropical early morning air felt like velvet on my skin.
Our colleague Juanke picked us at the airport along with a woman named Ada from the Solomon Islands who had shared our plane. Her luggage, she was told, would arrive in a few days. Her travel had lasted over 70 hours.
Our ride from the airport to the hotel took us through Asunción rush hour with its suicidal scooter riders, but also reminded us of the beauty of Latin American life. Backyard trees heavy with citrus or mangoes, stunning old Hispanic churches with their arched windows and pink plaster, the wide, majestic river, children running and screaming in the park playgrounds even at seven in the morning, the bustle of the markets.
Juanke pointed to the scooter drivers, saying that you had to treat them like they were your brother or your dad, give them lots of room to avoid harming them. Sure enough, as we approached downtown, the squeal of brakes and the sudden spectre of a scooter wedged up against the driver’s side of a car, with the scooter driver sprawled on its hood. He awkwardly clambored down and stood up unsteadily, hobbling to the curb, but appearing to have avoided serious injury.
And then the inevitable signs of American cultural infiltration. A wall painted with Captain America and the Simpsons. “Black Friday” advertisements on many (mostly upscale) storefronts. And in a square, a Christmas tree made from Heineken bottles. This was topped off by admonishments from Juanke not to travel alone, not to wear cameras or purses and to avoid carrying your passport. For the flip side of the beauty of this place is the crushing poverty, made worse by a neoliberal ruling party hell bent on sucking the resources out of the country to export to the highest bidder.
Which is why we are here. At the meetings we came here for we will be gathering with colleagues from around the world to discuss problem of deforestation and its underlying drivers. In Latin America these drivers include biofuels and wood-based bioenergy (which will some day include genetically engineered trees if Brazil has its way), and all over the continent, but especially here in Paraguay: cattle ranching and the livestock industry. And underneath it all, the economic model that continues to insist that the planet was made for global elites to consume, consume, consume. Endlessly. With no concern about the inevitable consequences.
These are the problems we will tackle over the coming days, with the aim to devise renewed and strengthened global campaigns to take them head on.
And for those of you who are our supporters, thanks for helping to make this happen.