Editor’s note: Through a special arrangement with the producers of
the television newsmagazine American Investigator, WorldNetDaily brings
you this exclusive news report, the second of a two-part series.
*Part 1 dealt with questions about the scientific integrity of the “save the Amazon” movement. The concluding part of this series focuses on the devastating effect of the movement on the indigenous people of the region.
By Marc Morano and Kent Washburn
© 2000, WorldNetDaily.com, Inc.
Environmentalists acknowledge that man historically has utilized the rainforests, but they view tribal peoples much differently than they do modern man.
“Many scientists believe the effect that indigenous people had on the forest was a positive one for biodiversity,” states Tim Keating of Rainforest Relief. He believes that “we have a lot to learn from tribal peoples.”
Hollywood celebrities, like the musician Sting, have taken up the cause of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and believe they are the models of sustainability and earth friendliness. But Sting and the tribal leaders he has helped to bring to the world’s attention do not speak for all of the indigenous people of the Amazon.
Up the Rio Negro, along the banks of the Amazon, is a region known as Terra Preta or black land, and home to many indigenous peoples. The tribal chief is a man known as “Samuel.”
“The forest is going very well, thank you very much, the forest is not endangered of disappearing,” Chief Samuel explains. He offers a contrasting viewpoint from some of the indigenous leaders who have traveled the world with Sting and other Western celebrities. Chief Samuel bristles at the suggestion that celebrities like Sting represent his people’s interests.
He offers: “I think he does not good, not bad — he’s just out promoting himself.”
“The number one concern for all the families that live here is how to survive without the means of getting money, without jobs,” he explained.
His tribe survives off the exploitation of wood in the forest and he believes, “We should be masters of our own destiny.” He also welcomes more contact with modern man.
“Not only here, but the tribes up river and in other places, they would like more progress and civilization for their tribes,” he explains.
Keating believes that the best way to help indigenous peoples is to “demarcate their indigenous lands as reserves … so that these indigenous people can continue to inhabit those lands in the way they always have.”
Former Chief Mario says, “It’s not a good idea for Indians to keep themselves isolated from the rest of civilization.”
Chief Samuel agrees, adding, “We have to integrate and we look forward to the day they can integrate with civilization.”
Economist and WorldNetDaily columnist
Walter Williams, who frequently travels to Brazil, believes the efforts to set up reserves for the indigenous peoples are misguided.
“I think that what they are trying to do is make a zoo out of people,” Williams says. “That is, that’s what you do with polar bears and apes and chimps. You don’t do that with people.”
Citizens of Brazil, the country home to most of the Amazon rainforest, face stark poverty at nearly every turn. The average per capita income is $6,000 dollars per year, and 17 percent of the population lives below the official poverty line. The infant mortality rate has been one of the highest rates in the world for a developing country.
“We have to win the war against underdevelopment and poverty,” says Rio engineer Guillerme Camargo, “and the Amazonic region is strategic from that point of view.”
Although the Amazon clearly contains great stores of untapped natural resources, prosperity does not appear to be in the works for its citizens. Worldwide concern about the rainforests has led to severe environmental restrictions, putting ever more of the country’s resources off-limits.
“Everybody says Brazil is a rich country,” says Camargo. “But all this wealth does not turn into benefits for the population.”
Brazil has been blessed with vast natural wealth, including gold, iron, nickel, platinum, navigable rivers, timber and farmland. Carmargo believes that “there is a deliberate attempt by economic and political interests, trying to show a picture of devastation of the rainforest which does not correspond to reality.”
Beginning in the late 1980s, environmental groups lobbied to block Brazil’s access to multilateral finance for development projects. The environmental campaigns helped to undermine European Union financing for a major mining project and undermined a $500 million dollar World Bank loan. The Inter-American Development Bank canceled a $65 million loan for road construction.
According to Brazilian government officials, the pressure from environmental campaigns to halt development has contributed to Brazil becoming one of the world’s largest debtor nations and has not helped the millions of residents living in poverty.
Luis Almir, a government official for the state of Amazonas in Manaus, believes these international pressures are “based on a fantasy about the region” — and the people of Brazil suffer as a result.
The native peoples in the Amazon are feeling the brunt of environmental restrictions. A day’s travel up the Amazon’s Rio Negro finds the Caboclo, a community of mixed Indian and Brazilian families who have inhabited the area for generations. The Caboclo have no industry, no running water, and rely on the simplest of subsistence farming for food. Yet despite this eco-friendly lifestyle, the Caboclo have found themselves under ever-increasing scrutiny by Brazil’s police and various environmental organizations.
“The police have forbidden me,” says Caboclo villager Janio Oliverra, “to do anything that would harm the forest, like cutting trees. If they catch me, I will have to pay a fine and possibly go to prison.”
Almir believes that when the rainforest is the priority, the ones who suffer are “doubtlessly our people.”
Oliverra echoes these sentiments, explaining, “We have no other alternative here — we have to live off the jungle. What are we going to do? Are we going to rob people or we’re going to become thieves? We have no other alternative.”
Fabio Ferreira lives along the riverbanks with his wife Erundina and daughter Arlete. He says they lead a hard life because of the restrictions on using the forest.
“So how are we going to survive if we don’t use the forest?” he asks. “Those (environmental) groups don’t have the right to interfere with us, because it’s something that has to do with our survival.”
The Caboclos reject the necessity of these environmental regulations because they don’t think the forest is in any danger. Ferreira states that the “extent of the deforestation is only near the rivers, but back there in the forest and many other places, the forest is untouched.”
The Caboclos aspire to a Western standard of living, as evidenced by their use of motorboats, chainsaws and even television sets. But the forest remains their only source of income.
The modern-day environmentalists engaged in the effort to “save the Amazon” are fighting more than just economic development. Environmentalist Tim Keating believes the free market may be what is harming the developing world’s poor by making “rich people richer” and making “more poverty than it solves.” Keating thinks there are a lot of misconceptions about poverty.
“We perceive people to be poor if they don’t have the amenities that we have, if they don’t have running water, they don’t have electricity — we think of them as poor. That’s a misperception,” he opines. Keating adds, “I mean, humans have existed without electricity and running water for many, many thousands of years and, geez, we weren’t extinct as a species.”
Williams, a critic of today’s environmental movement, disagrees.
“That is utter nonsense. I think that if people don’t have running water, they are poor. If they don’t have toilets, indoor toilets, they are poor,” he offers. “I’m very sure that those people who say that this is a misperception, they themselves have running water and indoor toilets.”
Keating, though, says, “Capitalism distributes the pie to whoever seems to be the biggest bully or whoever seems to be the most aggressive person,” and that “capitalism is pretty much antithetical to sustainability.”
Actor Chevy Chase, who was a featured speaker at Earth Day 2000, agrees with Keating. Chase offers that “socialism works” to help people out of poverty. He adds, “I think Cuba might prove that.”
“Capitalism has a far better record of promoting the interests of mankind than any other system that we know of on earth, including communism and socialism,” counters Williams. “That is, people are always better off under capitalism. I don’t care what measure you use.”
Celebrity activist Tom Arnold, also in attendance at Earth Day 2000, sees it as the West’s duty to control the developing world and makes no bones about the fact that we are controlling the poorer nations.
“It is arrogant. But we are going to have to be, because we learned from our stupid mistakes and we are going to have to help them. It’s what’s going to have to happen,” he opines. Arnold believes that the wealthy nations should subsidize the poorer nations because it’s “the only way it’s going to work is if we help them and that’s going to cost us a lot of money and we’re going to have to do it.”
Jayni Chase, Chevy’s wife and head of Friends of the Earth, explains that “environmentalists are trying to think long term, not just feed your child tomorrow. We’re trying to think long term.”
Robert Whelan, author of “The Myth of the Noble Eco-Savage,” believes this philosophy is misguided. “It’s very easy to romanticize these things from a distance, as long as it’s not your children who are dying without medical care,” he said.
Philip Stott of the University of London, and author of “Tropical Rainforests: Political and Hegemonic Myth-making,” adds: “Just think what people in America would say if somebody said, ‘Well, I think you are not managing that correctly, so I’m actually going to come in and run your agriculture for you.’”
Stott — along with Patrick Moore, the environmental scientist who co-founded Greenpeace and who now leads a group called Greenspirit — see the poverty stricken residents of Brazil as the victims of the misguided environmental campaigns to preserve the Amazon, an effort they say is riddled with mendacity and bad science.
Meanwhile, back in New York, preparations continue for more “Save the Rainforest” campaigns — almost all of them involving the raising of millions and millions of dollars.
“Unfortunately,” cautions Vincent Nogueira, state secretary for the environment in the Amazon, “not one single red cent has ever come (to Amazonia) from these sources. What they do with whatever they collect, I don’t know.”
Marc Morano is the correspondent and co-producer for American Investigator’s “Amazon Rainforest: Clear-Cutting the Myths.” Kent Washburn is his co-producer.