Tag Archives: biodiversity

The Unconquered, in search of the Amazon’s last uncontacted tribes-A Review

Review by Orin Langelle for GJEP

Note: Global Justice Ecology Project’s Anne Petermann and I went to Washington, DC last month to meet with friends and colleagues who were in town for the fall meetings of the infamous World Bank.  We arrived in Union Station and hopped on the Metro to Dupont Circle where we met Janet Redman, from the Institute for Policy Studies, at a local restaurant.

We were there to meet Scott Wallace who recently sent me a pre-release copy of THE UNCONQUERED–In Search of the Amazon’s last Uncontacted Tribes.  It was the first time I had met Wallace and I had just started reading his book.  From the beginning I found the book hard to put down.  At the restaurant, I learned a good deal about Scott.  Prior to his book, he had written articles for National Geographic.  But before that, amongst other assignments, he was a journalist in Central America, who reported on the wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. One thing that I didn’t find out until later, towards the end of the book, was that, thanks to Wallace, there were now only two degrees of separation between Osama bin-Laden and myself.  (More on that later…)

But before the review—below–is a trailer that sets the stage for the book. The grey bearded gentleman in the trailer is Sydney Possuelo and the writer, of course, is Wallace.  Possuello is the main character documented by Wallace in The Unconquered.  But in all fairness it could be said that the main characters of this book are the ones not seen.  The undocumented indigenous tribes of the Amazon jungle.

I’ve worked full-time for social justice for the past four decades, but the last thing I want to do, after my work day is done, is bring home more reality.

For this reason, over the past ten years I’ve read more fiction than non–just because fiction is an escape from dealing with the harsh political and ecological realities of our world today.

So when author Scott Wallace sent me THE UNCONQUERED –In Search of the Amazon’s last Uncontacted Tribes, I said “shit,” more reality to deal with.  After reading a few pages, though, I realized that Wallace had set the hook and was reeling me in to a world that most people will never experience or even think about–and that his way of story telling was something special.  This is not just a book of nonfiction, nor is it an adventure novel.  Wallace has made it both—and fascinating. Hopefully, THE UNCONQUERED will capture the imagination of anyone who reads it, and encourage him or her, while enjoying a lively narrative, to understand the injustices indigenous peoples’ experience, from the past until this day.

THE UNCONQUERED documents Sydney Possuelo’s effort to protect, from his point of view, uncontacted indigenous tribes in the Amazon from the onslaught of civilization.  It is also a story of Scott Wallace, who left his family, relationship and everyday life, to set off on a journey into one of the most isolated spots of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.  Through the eyes of Wallace, the book also tells the story of the indigenous people of the region.  A people who have chosen to live in their territory, in their ancient culture, and to avoid the death trap of the White Man, that in the Americas can be traced back over 500 years.

Possuelo was the head of Brazil’s FUNAI’s (National Indian Foundation) Department of Isolated Indians.  He led thirty-four people in a grueling three month expedition into the depths of Javarí Valley Indigenous Land in a seemingly conflicted effort to consciously not contact or study the isolated inhabitants of The People of the Arrow (flecheiros), but to explore the proximity of their territory—in an effort to document their territory in order to keep intruders out of their territory, to protect their way of life from outside invasion.

The richness of the Amazon brings all types of fortune hunters, from gold diggers to rubber barons to illegal loggers.  They set upon the Amazon with a vengeance, pilfering what the Amazon offers. With their invasion come diseases that, along with outright murder, decimate the indigenous populations.

Prior to Possuelo’s involvement in FUNAI, the agency did not have a good reputation when it came to helping indigenous peoples.  FUNAI’s idea was to make contact with the natives, pacify and then assimilate them, in order to move them out of the way and open up their lands to development and exploitation.

When Possuelo became the head of the FUNAI’s Department of Isolated Indians, Wallace writes:

“Though not explicitly articulated at the time, Possuelo’s new policy had the immediate effect of sequestering millions of acres of the most species-rich, biodiverse lands on the planet, placing them, at least theoretically, beyond the reach of those looking to exploit their riches.  The survival of isolated tribes depended…on intact forests that could provide the Indians with all their necessities: food, water, shelter, security.”

Needless to say all those who sought to make profit from indigenous lands reviled Possuelo—and the missionaries didn’t like him either.

The main purpose of Possuelo’s no contact policy, was to protect the Indians from disease, due to their extreme vulnerability to foreign contagions.  One needs only to look at history for proof.  Wallace relates that Christopher Columbus’ contact with the Taino people resulted in their extinction within sixty years.  Modern demographic studies indicate their population could have been as high as eight million at the time.

More death from disease came to South America with Pizarro (small pox) and subsequent invasions by Europeans. The isolated tribes that still exist are just as vulnerable as ever.

In writing about the details of the expedition, Wallace doesn’t gloss over the tensions between those on the journey and Possuelo—tensions that could have easily led to rebellion–nor does he leave out his own sometimes-painful feelings and actions. It’s quite revealing of who Scott Wallace is.

Wallace’s candid, yet evocative style projects a vivid imagery for the reader and allows a deeper insight into the characters and the situations they encounter. On first view of the expedition participants, Wallace describes them as resembling “a war party returning from a raid:  Apocalypse Now meets The Last of the Mohicans.”

On Possuelo:

“He seemed oblivious of the preposterous figure he posed, clad only in his floppy hat and a skimpy Speedo, over which his ample gut spilled.”  He then quotes Possuelo arguing that one of the reasons the rainforest was still intact was because, “the Indians formidable reputation had served as a powerful deterrent for decades, perhaps even centuries. ‘Personally I like them like this—violent,’ Posseulo said.”

And on himself, as drops of psychedelic buchité were administered to his eyes:

“I let out a roar.  It felt like my eyes were scorched with sulfuric acid.  Everyone howled with laughter.  It took several minutes for the burning to subside.  I opened my eyes and looked around…I beheld a different forest than the one I’ve been marching through for the past four days.  It was no longer a two-dimensional, monochromatic screen of dull browns and greens.  Everything stood out in sharp, almost psychedelic relief…The colors seemed to vibrate…I wasn’t hallucinating exactly; it was more like looking at the jungle through a 3-D View-Master.”

But Wallace is not merely an adventure junky–far from it. Wallace discusses his fears, his missteps and falls in the jungle, and other personal details that reveal a man who has fortitude but is also frightened in an enormous rainforest, isolated, surrounded by unfriendly creatures from anacondas to jaguars to devouring ants to crocodiles—not to mention the potential contact with The Arrow People and a possible shower of poisonous arrows raining down on the expedition.  One small mistake could have been his last.

Critics ask Possuelo if he thought he was depriving indigenous peoples of civilization.  Possuelo asserts that if any of them really wanted to make contact, all they had to do was come downriver.

Other critics are sure to say that here is another white man thinking he can save the indigenous peoples because of his feelings of superiority—or guilt.  This thought did bother me a bit, but then I recalled a situation where indigenous friends and colleagues asked me to please talk to another white person who said some things they found disrespectful.  They impressed upon me that white people should take care of their own when they fuck up.  So it could be said that Possuelo was taking care of the whites that were trying to get into the jungle to exploit its riches.  But it’s really not my role to judge.

Possuelo had no fondness for the white invaders.  Even though law protected the Javarí Valley Indigenous Land he and others fought for, Possuelo knew that laws and land could be over-ruled by a change of government in Brasilia.  Maybe he had no right, but he told the contacted indigenous people of the Javarí Valley:

You must say NO to the white man!  Tell him:  We don’t want loggers, we don’t want fisherman, we don’t want hunters here! The fish are here for us to eat!  For us—the Matis, The Marubo, the Kanamari, the Korubu, and yes, the Arrow People, too!  The monkeys are for us. The boar, the tapir, the turkeys—they are for us!  Tell the white man to stay out!  Tell him:  We don’t want you here anymore!

In my opinion, if humans are to have a future on this planet and if the Amazon basin is to remain the lungs of the earth and if the indigenous peoples have crucial knowledge most people in the rest of the world don’t, then the capitalist exploiters looking for the last tree to cut down, the last gold to mine to dig, or the last fish to catch, would be well advised to stay out of the Amazon.  And just about everywhere else.

So back to the question about Osama bin-Laden’s relation to me.  In The Unconquered, Wallace mentions the idea of the six degrees of separation that connect us all in some special way.  But what of The Arrow People and other uncontacted—are they somehow connected to the rest of us conquered by civilization?  As for the two degrees of separation between bin-Laden and myself, Wallace had a close friend who interviewed bin-Laden in an Afghan cave in 1996, making Wallace one degree separated and now since I’ve met the author only two degrees of separation.  Strange things to contemplate in this day and age.

Orin Langelle is the Co-director/Strategist for Global Justice Ecology Project.  He is a contributor to many publications, including recent work for Z Magazine, Race, Poverty and the Environment, Earth Island Journal and others.  He is currently compiling four decades of his concerned photography for publication and is a member of the National Writers Union and the International Federation of Journalists.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean

GJEP’s Short Video on REDD in Chiapas Chosen for Native Spirit Film Festival

We’re proud to announce that the short documentary video Global Justice Ecology Project produced this past Spring, Amador Hernandez, Chiapas: Starved of Medical Services for REDD+, (watch film below) is being shown this week in London as part of Native Spirit Film Festival. The festival is a season of films, performances and workshops celebrating the cultures of Indigenous Peoples across the Earth, founded and counselled by Indigenous people, as a platform to promote the voices of Indigenous cultures and the protection of their rights.

According to the festival’s program, which you can download here, the themes for this year are “defending culture in the face of modern development, responding to climate change, reconnecting with the land, the power of storytelling, cultural identity, guidance from the Elders and voices of youth, and finding a sense of belonging within the community.”

While our entry in the festival is a humble ten-minute documentary, the process of producing this short video, we think, was exemplary.

Komen Ilel's Fuyumi Labra (left) and Angél Galán (forefront) with GJEP's Communication Director,Jeff Conant (right) relax in Amador Hernandez before they begin a documentary overflight of the Lacandon jungle. photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

When Orin Langelle and I traveled to Chiapas this past March to investigate the emerging impacts of REDD+, we met with a small film collective, Komen Ilel. Two members of Komen Ilel, Angél Galán and Fuyumi Labra, excited about our project, volunteered to accompany us on a trek into the jungle. Because of the nature of our visit to the remote community of Amador Hernández, even as we began our two-day trek, there was no certainty that Angél and Fuyumi would be allowed to film. Indeed, due to a long history of outsiders taking disrespectful advantage of the villagers, there was no certainty that our colleagues, or their cameras, would be allowed to even set foot in the village.

After a ten-hour drive from San Cristóbal de las Casas to the military-occupied village of San Quintín, where the road ends at the border of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, our small crew was met by representatives from Amador Hernández. They took us to a nearby village to spend the night before traveling further into the jungle.

There, we spoke, formally at first, and then with more ease. Our goal, we said, was to interview the villagers about any concerns they might have about REDD+ as it was manifesting there in the Lacandon jungle. The young man speaking for the village said that their concern, above all, was to let the world know of a particular injustice they were suffering: a year previous to our visit, the government had cancelled all medical service to the village. Several children and elders had died as a direct consequence.

After some length of discussion, it became clear that the two concerns were one: the negation of medical services appeared to be part of the government’s strategy to pressure Amador Hernández to negotiate for relocation, in large part due to the need to demarcate the borders of the Montes Azules Reserve for a forest-carbon inventory.

With this revelation, we asked the village representative: could we bring our film crew and capture some interviews on film. Our documentary work, we said, might help the village to demand restoration of its right to health, and to its territory. He agreed that this was a good idea, but whether we would be permitted to film was a question for the village assembly.

The next morning we hiked fifteen kilometers, through the Lacandon’s black, boot-sucking mud, and arrived at the village by afternoon. After darkness fell, an assembly was called, and we – Orin, Angel, Fuyumi, and myself – were invited to attend, and to speak. To the forty or fifty Tseltal Mayan campesinos gathered in the dusty half-light of a bare solar-powered bulb we presented ourselves and declared our intentions. Our words, translated into Tseltal, were batted around the assembly, fed into the age-old process of lajan laja, or consensus-building.

Finally, the assembly decided that, yes, we could conduct our interviews, and yes, we could film anything we wanted. The only condition on their part was that, aside from whatever other material we would produce, we make sure that their primary concern – the withdrawal of medical services – be addressed, so the world would know.

It is to Angel and Fuyumi’s credit that the short video they produced for GJEP does precisely what the Amador Hernández community assembly requested – it tells the story of the withdrawal of health services, while making it clear that this concern is directly linked to government efforts to remove the village due to the demands of impending carbon deals.

We are extremely pleased and proud to have had this short video chosen as a selection in this year’s Native Spirit Film Festival.

— Jeff Conant, for GJEP

Amador Hernandez, Chiapas: Starved of Medical Services for REDD+

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Filed under Biodiversity, Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean

Earth Minute: In Commemoration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Global Justice Ecology Project partners with Margaret Prescod’s Sojourner Truth show on KPFK–Pacifica Los Angeles radio show for a weekly Earth Minute on Tuesdays and a weekly 12 minute Environment Segment every Thursday.

This week’s Earth Minute discusses the legacy of Christopher Columbus: ongoing wars against Indigenous Peoples to control their resources.  To Listen to the Earth Minute, click here

Text from this week’s Earth Minute:

This week marks the 519th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ invasion of the Americas and the brutal genocide he launched, starting with the Arawak People who he quickly wiped out.

With the founding of the United States, the Indian wars continued. Reservations, created to clear the path for the country’s conquest, were later discovered to be rich with coal, uranium, and oil, and a new war was launched to take those resources. Native Americans who resisted were jailed or killed.  Communities were left with contaminated air, water and soil.

Today, Indigenous peoples around the globe are still losing their ancestral lands to corporations and investors–modern day versions of Christopher Columbus that want their lands for profit-making schemes like bioenergy plantations, industrial tree farms or tar sands oil.

Yet there are still Indigenous peoples who, against all odds, have protected their lands and maintained their traditional ways of life.  We must stand in solidarity with their ongoing struggles for land, rights and dignity.

For the Earth Minute and the Sojourner Truth show, this is Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Climate Change, Earth Minute, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Posts from Anne Petermann

Radio Interview Part II: World Bank and Climate Smart Crops in Africa: KPFK Los Angeles

Global Justice Ecology Project partners with the Sojourner Truth show on KPFK Pacifica Los Angeles for a weekly segment on the environment.

Last week’s segment featured an interview with Soren Ambrose, Development Finance Coordinator for ActionAid International.  Soren is based out of Nairobi, Kenya and is also a Board member of Global Justice Ecology Project.

In this interview, which is broken into two parts (this is part II), Soren discusses the impacts of “climate smart” agriculture in Africa and the role of the World Bank.

The first segment of the interview with Soren can be heard at:  http://archive.kpfk.org/parchive/mp3/kpfk_111005_070010sojourner.MP3 by scrolling to minute 40:00.

The second segment of the interview with Soren can be heard at:  http://ia600704.us.archive.org/21/items/Sojournertruthradio100611/St100611.mp3 and scrolling to minute 36:16

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Filed under Biodiversity, Climate Change, Corporate Globalization, False Solutions to Climate Change, Food Sovereignty, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Land Grabs

This Week’s Earth Minute: Occupy Wall Street and The Links Between Politics, Economics, Ecology, Race and Class

Global Justice Ecology Project partners with Margaret Prescod’s Sojourner Truth show on KPFK–Pacifica Los Angeles radio show for a weekly Earth Minute on Tuesdays and a weekly 12 minute Environment Segment every Thursday.

This week’s Earth Minute discusses the links between the ever-worsening ecological crisis and the financial crisis being targeted by the Occupation Wall Street protests.  To Listen to the Earth Minute, click here

Text from this week’s Earth Minute:

For more than 2 weeks, demonstrators on Wall Street have been standing up against corporate power and these protests are now spreading to other cities.  It is the unjust economic and social system that sparked these growing protests that is at the root of many of the crises we face.

It is a system driven by fossil fuels–fuels heavily subsidized by the US government, which gives away billions to oil companies while slashing benefits for the poorest among us.

Fossil fuels are driving climate chaos, causing catastrophic floods, droughts, wildfires and crop failures that further impact vulnerable populations and cause social turmoil.

The US military is deployed to ensure these crises do not impede our steady supply of oil.  This military also happens to be the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.

Politics, economics, ecology, race and class are intertwined.  If we are to find solutions to the many crises we face, we must understand these connections and take action–just action that respects Mother Earth.

For the Earth Minute and the Sojourner Truth show, this is Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Earth Minute, Energy, Posts from Anne Petermann

USDA Grants $136 million for research into use of GE trees and other wood for bioenergy

By Anne Petermann, for the GJEP Team

GE poplars coming to a forest near you?  There is a disturbing new push to transform forests in the Pacific Northwest into GE tree plantations to feed new bioenergy refineries.

Fast-growing poplar trees grown by Portland, OR-based GreenWood Resources, which has formed a partnership with GE tree company ArborGen.

Last week US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced it was making a grant of $136 million–its largest grant ever– to several universities and private companies in the Pacific Northwest to promote development of a Northwest “biofuels” industry.

According to an article titled, “UW, WSU to get $80M to Develop Biofuels” in the Seattle Times, this grant is designed to build a new industry that “would be churning out fuel from trees” in the next five years.  They quoted Vilsack, stating, “I’d bet my life on it.”

The grant has several components, including the development of “fast growing poplars” that could mature in just a few years.  The University of Washington plans to develop 400,000 acres of these poplars across the Northwest.

Another article titled, “Pacific Northwest Forests Offer Biomass Bounty” in the Western Farm Press, states that the same grant provides over a half million dollars for Oregon State University to investigate use of genetically engineered trees for dedicated energy plantations.  Most of the research into GE trees at OSU focuses on poplars.

This suggests that the ultimate goal of the grant is the development of industrial-scale genetically engineered poplar plantations as bioenergy feedstocks.  This is highly troubling since this grant was provided by the USDA–which is the same agency that would review any applications requesting permission to grow GE trees commercially.  GE trees are not yet legal to grow on a commercial scale in the US.

Also troubling is the fact that in June, David Nothmann, the Vice President of Business and Product Development for GE tree company ArborGen, was named to serve on the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee which is jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the USDA.  Prior to ArborGen, Nothmann spent thirteen years at Monsanto.

Because of this obvious conflict of interest of the USDA with regard to genetically engineered trees, any requests for commercial release of GE trees will likely result in years of lawsuits to stop them.

This threat of lawsuits, according to an article in Biomass Power & Thermal Magazine, is “representing a tremendous deterrent to investment in [biotechnology], especially on the biomass side, where a lot of them are start-up companies.  It’s making it very hard to get investments [when] you’re going to have to deal with [5-10 years of] litigation. It is creating a huge barrier.”

Other OSU research will study forest health and hazard reduction.  This could indicate that researchers are also looking into use of trees killed or damaged by the western pine beetle as sources of woody biomass.  This is backed up by another article published on September 29th in the Denver Post, titled “Beetle-Kill Pine, Other Wood Pushed as Power Source and way to Aid Ailing Colorado Forests,” which announced a new consortium that is looking at using beetle-killed trees as wood for fuel.

Global Justice Ecology Project’s position is that there is no sustainable way to replace fossil fuels with plants at the scale at which they are used in the US.  An article in Science MagazineImplications of Limiting CO2 Concentration for Land Use and Energy” from 2009 demonstrates this.  The article points out that the predicted rise in global demand for wood-based electricity alone would require the total conversion of native forests and grasslands to biomass plantations by 2065.

For more on the dangers of GE poplars and other trees, click here

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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Greenwashing, Posts from Anne Petermann

September Photo of the Month: World Bank-Sponsored “Forest Protection” in Indonesia

Benoit Bosque, of the World Bank2
Benoit Bosquet, Coordinator of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, defends the bank’s role in “forest conservation” in Indonesia, where forest-based communities have been forcibly evicted at gunpoint, and their homes burned to the ground. Behind him is a photo of one such eviction. Photo: Petermann/GJEP

To read the full article about REDD in Indonesia in our blog Climate Connections, click here


GJEP’s photos of the month usually feature the work of Orin Langelle, GJEP’s Co-director/Strategist, who is also a professional photographer.  This month, with the World Bank annual meetings just passed and the UN Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa coming up soon, we decided to post this photo by GJEP Executive Director Anne Petermann.

Orin Langelle is currently working on a book of four decades of his concerned photography.  From mid-June to mid-July Langelle worked on the book as an artist in residence at the Blue Mountain Center in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

Also check out the GJEP Photo Gallery, past Photos of the Month posted on GJEP’s website, or Langelle’s photo essays posted on GJEP’s Climate Connections blog.

Global Justice Ecology Project explores and exposes the intertwined root causes of social injustice, ecological destruction and economic domination with the aim of building bridges between social justice, environmental justice and ecological justice groups to strengthen their collective efforts.  Within this framework, our programs focus on Indigenous Peoples’ rights, protection of native forests and climate justice.  We use the issue of climate change to demonstrate these interconnections. Global Justice Ecology Project is the North American Focal Point of the Global Forest Coalition.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Carbon Trading, Climate Change, Climate Justice, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, REDD

Blog Post from the Belly of the Beast: In the Bowels of the World Bank

 –by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project; North American Focal Point, Global Forest Coalition

… the Indonesian military is getting money through climate financing for REDD-type projects. The communities that live in the forests–some of them Indigenous to the area, some of them relocated there in the 80s–are being invaded by heavily armed forest rangers, paramilitaries and police; and are forced to leave at gunpoint while their homes are burned to the ground.

Benoit Bosquet, Coordinator of the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, defends the bank's role in "forest conservation" in Indonesia, where forest-based communities have been forcibly evicted at gunpoint. Behind him is a photo of one such eviction. Photo: Petermann/GJEP

Today commenced the fall meetings of the World Bank in Washington, DC.  The Bank has long been known for its strong-arm tactics to force countries in the Global South to turn over their resources–whether natural resources or poor peoples’ labor– to corporations based in the Industrialized North.

While the Bank is notorious as a major funder of fossil fuel projects, devastating large-scale hydroelectric projects and deforestation projects, they have now become one of the leaders in the effort to use “market-based” schemes for climate mitigation.  They are the world’s carbon brokers.

Indeed, one of the items on their meeting agenda is climate finance–pumping money into various developing countries to supposedly undertake climate mitigation programs that will predominately benefit countries in the north, by enabling them to maintain business as usual and avoid cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Appropriately, there was a civil society session this morning on the impacts of climate finance for REDD projects in Indonesia.  Indonesia is a global focal point for climate action because of the massive climate emissions that have occurred there largely as a result of the burning of primeval peat forests for conversion to oil palm plantations.  But even the climate mitigation programs come with a high price, and Indonesia provides a stark case study of the devastating social and ecological impacts of REDD (the scheme to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

But in order to participate in the workshop, it was first necessary to navigate the World Bank’s ridiculous security process.

It became obvious quickly that the Bank is quite paranoid about security.  Now why, I wondered sarcastically, would an institution whose mission is ostensibly about poverty eradication need blocks and blocks of metal barricades and legions of police surrounding it?

Perhaps it has something to do with all of the people around the globe who have suffered under their severely unjust policies.  Maybe they never quite got over A-16, (April 16, 2000) when thousands of activists descended on DC to blockade all of the streets surrounding the World Bank in a massive condemnation of the Bank’s dirty dealings.

But on this day, there were no protests, yet I still got the run-around by numerous unfriendly security officers and police, directed this way and that until I finally managed to find the registration building.

Once there, I explained for the fourth time that I was only there for one workshop and just needed a day pass.  “We’re not giving out day passes today,” the desk jockey muttered. I had not encountered such surly, robot-like people since the Manchester, New Hampshire jail after a group of us were arrested in January 2000 for occupying Al Gore’s NH campaign headquarters in support of the U’Wa people of Colombia, whose lands were threatened by oil drilling by Occidental Petroleum.  (Al had a lot of stock in Occidental).

Frustrated, irritated and thoroughly disgusted, I was ready to give up and make the trek back uptown when I saw a separate registration area for CSOs (civil society organizations).  Okay, I thought, one more try.

I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say, I talked my way into an official access badge. Then after navigating yet more metal barricades, police officers and a metal detector, I finally arrived at my destination: the workshop on the impacts of REDD and forest “conservation” in Indonesia.  It was horrifying.

Global Justice Ecology Project has been exposing the impacts of REDD on communities in Chiapas, Mexico and California as the result of a sub-national REDD carbon offset deal between the two states.  Indigenous communities in the jungle of Chiapas are threatened with displacement for “forest protection” projects, and being subjected to intimidation tactics such as the withholding of medical services to try to force them to leave.

But what is happening on the ground in Indonesia is even more extreme. As one panelist pointed out, the violence happening to the people in the forests is even worse than the violence that occurred under the Suharto dictatorship.

While the dictatorship no longer exists, the military still maintains most of the power in the country–and now that the forests have suddenly increased in value because of REDD (because the carbon stored by the trees now has value), people who live in the forests but do not have official title to their lands (which is about 80% of the people in the rural areas) are being violently evicted for “conservation” projects.

In the 1980s, a program was initiated in Indonesia called the Transmigration Program.  It moved 2.5 million people off of the heavily populated islands of Bali and Java and onto other islands, leading to tremendous land conflicts.  In some areas, the ratio of migrants to locals was 2:1.  This, the speaker explained, is exactly what is now happening under REDD.  Massive population displacement.

In a nutshell, the Indonesian military is getting money through climate financing for REDD-type projects. The communities that live in the forests–some of them Indigenous to the area, some of them relocated there in the 80s–are being invaded by heavily armed forest rangers, paramilitaries and police; and are forced to leave at gunpoint while their homes are burned to the ground.

All in the name of conservation.

I spoke briefly with the panel moderator, a woman native to Indonesia, about our work in Chiapas and what we had found there.

“Yes,” she replied.  “What we see in Indonesia is not unique.  It is happening all over with these REDD projects.”

And what is the point of all of this suffering and misery and violence?  To provide corporations in the industrialized north with the opportunity to avoid reducing their pollution by “buying” carbon stored in some distant forest thereby “offsetting” their emissions.

So, in other words, impoverished rural and Indigenous peoples are being confronted with unspeakable violence to allow companies in the North to continue to poison and pollute poor communities near their facilities in the North.

Benoit Bosque, of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (the Bank’s program to help design and fund REDD projects in tropical and subtropical countries) spoke and tried to deflect this intense critique by explaining that REDD was extremely complex, but we shouldn’t give up. “These conflicts are about an accumulation of past mistakes. We cannot let fear of mistakes prevent us from taking bold steps forward.”

Yeah, tell that to the Indigenous Peoples being thrown off of their ancestral lands…

His callous reply received a lot of indignant responses from both the audience and the panel, who pointed out that the World Bank’s track record of enforcing even its own safeguards is terrible. “Consultations have been window dressing.  Demands must be made for accountability with World Bank partners or don‘t make them partners.  Don’t give them funding!”

At that Benoit bid his adieu before there were any more confrontations about the Bank’s role in funding violence against forest dependent communities.

For these reasons and many, many more, organizations and Indigenous Peoples’ groups around the world are condemning REDD.  For more information on this, go to: http://noredd.makenoise.org/.  To learn more about GJEP’s work in Chiapas and California on REDD, go to http://climate-connections.org/category/chiapas-2/.  To view our photo essay from the community of Amador Hernandez in the Lacandon Jungle, click here

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Filed under Biodiversity, Carbon Trading, Climate Change, Climate Justice, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Posts from Anne Petermann, REDD