by DANIEL BUCKLER
In order to enact a free trade deal with the United States, Peruvian president Alan Garcia was given extraordinary powers last year to quickly meet preconditions set by the U.S. for foreign investment to proceed. Among his ninety measures signed into law were some which would effectively eliminate protections over enormous swaths of Amazonian rainforest by opening the areas to foreign mining, oil, and timber companies. These lands are not only some of the most biologically important parts of the world, but are also occupied by indigenous peoples who were largely ignored throughout the process of the agreement.
This past week marks a victory for indigenous protesters, along with allies from student, labor, and environmental groups, in pressuring congress to repeal some of the worst of the decrees made by President Garcia. Legislators overwhelmingly voted to keep protections upon parts of the rainforest which would have been almost assuredly exploited to a great degree. Unfortunately, much blood was spilled in the unrest which was attributed to what Garcia understatedly called a "series of errors and exaggerations" on his part in trying to push through the trade agreement without the approval of indigenous groups.
This episode is a frightening reminder of the destructive power which unregulated free trade could impose upon the environment. Imagine if much of that land was unoccupied or if there was little organization among Peruvian leftists, these millions of acres of rainforest might very well have been handed over to the oil, mineral, and timber companies which salivate at the thought of exploiting one of the world’s last biological hotspots.
In truth, the United States – Peru Trade Promotion Agreement has some noteworthy environmental provisions in it, chief among them a stronger hand to wield against the flow of illegally logged timber from Peru. But, as evidenced by Garcia’s decrees, there would be a compensating rise in legally logged timber shipped from the country. We would trade one evil for another, and those suffering would be indigenous groups and our already tormented earth, all to satisfy the insatiable appetite of our corporate-driven consumption.
In a laxly regulated capitalist system which prospers on quick profit, the environment is the big loser. Environmental degradation has obviously been jutted onto the national agenda over the past few years, with most of us recognizing the culprits in our consumption and in the exploitative corporations riding roughshod over our world. But we don’t connect our environmental issues directly to our economic system which puts profit over the planet. There are some who argue that the private sector can be a responsible player in environmental upkeep because they derive their profit from the land, and if those lands are tainted, they will not be valuable any longer. But these people must have slept through the last few centuries. If they were awake, they would have seen an economy of locusts, moving from place to place in order to reap resources, and leaving a parched and scarred land behind them.
These and other environmental issues need to be directly addressed by YDS and DSA. We currently have no specific position or literature dealing with green concerns, other than the references to global warming, green jobs, alternative energy, sustainability, etc. Besides elaborating on these issues, we need to outline a position which concretely attributes our ecological destruction to unfettered capitalism, which acknowledges solidarity with the poor and minority peoples who are first to suffer from environmental ruin (see Norco, Louisiana), which traces the historical interaction of labor and environmental concerns, and which promotes alliances with environmental groups in the spirit of the Blue-Green Alliance of the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers.
Let us and others be inspired by Peruvians who proved that with a strong showing of solidarity, victories can be achieved, even against the strongest of enemies.